Modern American Indian life is urban, rural, and everything in-between. Lobo and Peters have compiled an unprecedented collection of innovative scholarship, stunning art, poetry, and prose that documents American Indian experiences of urban life. A pervasive rural/urban dichotomy still shapes the popular and scholarly perceptions of Native Americans, but this is a false exModern American Indian life is urban, rural, and everything in-between. Lobo and Peters have compiled an unprecedented collection of innovative scholarship, stunning art, poetry, and prose that documents American Indian experiences of urban life. A pervasive rural/urban dichotomy still shapes the popular and scholarly perceptions of Native Americans, but this is a false expression of a complex and constantly changing reality. When viewed from the Native perspectives, our concepts of urbanity and approaches to American Indian studies are necessarily transformed. Courses in Native American studies, ethnic studies, anthropology, and urban studies must be in step with contemporary Indian realities, and American Indians and the Urban Experience will be an absolutely essential text for instructors. This powerful combination of path-breaking scholarship and visual and literary arts from poetry and photography to rap and graffiti will be enjoyed by students, scholars, and a general audience. A Choice Outstanding Academic Book."...more
Studying Contemporary Urban Indians through Interdisciplinary Lenses
Defining the “urban Indian experience” is next to impossible due to the fact that many American Indians experienced relocation and urbanization differently, a point that Lobo and Peters make quite clear in their study of urban Indians and urban identity in both the past and in a contemporary setting. As Lobo explains, the goal of this project is to bring awareness to urban Indian issues where there is otherwise “very little foc Studying Contemporary Urban Indians through Interdisciplinary Lenses
Defining the “urban Indian experience” is next to impossible due to the fact that many American Indians experienced relocation and urbanization differently, a point that Lobo and Peters make quite clear in their study of urban Indians and urban identity in both the past and in a contemporary setting. As Lobo explains, the goal of this project is to bring awareness to urban Indian issues where there is otherwise “very little focused attention, research, or writing” on the subject (xi). Studies that have been previously conducted often show a wide divide between sociology and anthropology, in which sociologists often dealt with urban issues while anthropologists focused more on the past (Lobo and Peters xiv). Unlike prior studies, this anthology of essays on the topic of urban Indians and urban identity aims to view these subjects from multiple lenses, through interdisciplinary analyses, and in a contemporary setting. Urban Indians are not individuals of the past living in the 1940s and 1950s, but are ever-present in contemporary cities, and understanding the unique situations of urban Indians is necessary to better understand American Indian communities as a whole.
This anthology is separated into three separate sections that help readers navigate urban Indian identity, beginning with an “Overview of Urbanism.” The concept of urbanization is itself a Western construct that posits a dichotomy between the “urban” setting and the “rural” setting (Lobo and Peters 5). Initially, “urban” was a way to describe areas that were “civilized” whereas Indigenous peoples living outside of these areas were stereotypes as being social others. However, the problem with this representation is that it does not account for the thriving cities and urban centers that existed in pre-contact times that were inhabited by Indigenous peoples (Lobo and Peters 10). Despite contemporary research that confirms Indigenous peoples did indeed live in “urban” settings prior to contact, there is still a common stereotype that depicts American Indians living solely on reservations and outside of cities, despite the fact that most American Indians “now live away from reservation and trust lands” (Lobo and Peters 29).
While relocation itself often left American Indian individuals and families in poverty, often confused about where to go next and what to do, this does not mean that living in an urban city held only negative consequences for American Indians. Instead, the city is often “a location of opportunity” for those that are in need of employment, education, and access to other core necessities found in cities (Lobo and Peters 41). There were negative aspects, such as discrimination, when it came to finding employment and housing, but for some, escaping to the city was part of adapting for survival. The Yaqui historically inhabited Mexico, but several wars and political negotiations of land let the Yaqui to Phoenix, where they were able to avoid Mexican assimilation (Lobo and Peters 53). By remaining in Phoenix and creating their own, unique urban boundaries, the Yaqui were able to retain much of their Yaqui identity while also becoming part of the large, urban city that built up around them (Lobo and Peters 56, 65).
Part II of this anthology revolves around urban structuring and dynamics. One contention that is discussed several times is that the term “urban” can often be used differently depending on the context in which it is being used—similar to the very term “Indian” itself. For the purposes of this study, Lobo defines urban as “a place, a setting where many Indian people at some time in their lives visit, ‘establish an encampment,’ or settle into” (73). Yet while many Western theories and concepts posit that “urban” it an adjective used to define place, Lobo asks whether or not “urban” can also be used to describe a person (73). One argument made about urban Indians is that they have no connection to land because they have no “bounded territory” in cities as compared to reservation settings (Lobo and Peters 76). However, despite the fact that urban Indians do not collectively own a land base, it can be argued that they are still situated in a common area that unites them (Lobo and Peters 76). Urban areas are indeed different from reservations, but this does not mean that American Indians living in urban settings are automatically removed from their identity, culture, or traditions.
Urban Indians have a unique community that is often a “gateway for those…who have been alienated from their tribal roots and who wish to reidentify as Indian” (Lobo and Peters 78). While many urban Indian communities are pan-Indian, and share a generalized identity and sometimes not a culturally specific identity, they are now multigenerational communities in which elders and older members can help situate younger generation and teach them culture, traditions, and aspects of American Indian identity (Lobo and Peters 79). Whereas some scholars believe that Pan-Indianess is negative because it lacks a specific connection to a specific tribe, much of this anthology posits that Pan-Indianess is better than having no Indian identity at all. Identity itself is something that all American Indians must grapple with in urban settings, and many urban Indians are able to choose and shape their own identity. Identity can shift, change, and adapt over time (Lobo and Peters 80). Indian identity in urban settings can be determined by internal, external, and personal experiences. According to the research presented in this anthology, there are four ways in which urban Indian identity is defined: (1) ancestry, (2) appearance, (3) cultural knowledge, and (4) Indian community participation (Lobo and Peters 81). Though identity is a major theme presented throughout this text, I would argue that there are more than four ways in which urban Indian identity can be constructed. Traditionally, American Indian tribes would adopt members—if ancestry alone is one determiner of whether or not someone is “Indian” then adoption would rule out possible members. Similarly, “appearance” is a questionable qualifier because it is suggestive that “Indians” look a certain way—whereas all contemporary research attempts to move away from creating stereotypes about what Indian people look like. Although the text does suggest that an individual does not need to possess all four aspects to have “urban Indian identity,” there are ways in which an individual can identify as an “urban Indian” without having any of these aspects (Lobo and Peters 81-82). The following contextualization that “individuals may choose which criteria of Indianness may be activated and when” also seems to distort the four categories presented within the study itself (Lobo and Peters 82).
There are two different aspects of this study that are particularly noteworthy. First, the inclusion of personal narratives is often harrowing, gritty, and shows the truly negative impact of urbanization that altered the lives of many American Indian individuals. Alcoholism, for example, impacted many families, shattering and fracturing the bonds that had once kept the family together (Lobo and Peters 198). In some cases, individuals chose not to identify as Indian and instead turned to alcohol to feed their despair about living in poverty, being unemployed, and being isolated from their culture (Lobo and Peters 198). These narratives often reinforce negative stereotypes about American Indians that were living in urban settings, however, they also show why and how these issues grew in urban communities. Through understanding how these issues came about, it is easier to understand how contemporary urban communities are changing these trends. For example, one individual discusses her father’s alcoholism, yet then expresses her own desire not to drink and follow in her father’s footsteps (Lobo and Peters 198-199). These new narratives show a positive outlook for the future.
Most importantly in this anthology, the authors present a sense of hope and change for the future of urban Indian communities. Many similar works on urban Indians tend to present multiple negatives, but offer no real suggestions for how to better urban Indian issues—and worse yet, include no examples of any change in urban Indian communities. However, one way to initiate change is through comedy, which finds ways to influence new perceptions of American Indians while shifting other stereotypes and readapted them for contemporary audiences and expressing urban Indian identity on the stage (Lobo and Peters 231). Similarly, healing communities often begins with “attempting to decolonize knowledge” (Lobo and Peters 254). While these are only two examples of how contemporary urban Indians are expressing themselves and reclaiming their identity, this work gives numerous other examples of how social change is occurring in contemporary urban settings. ...more